Teacup Posts

Offensive Defenses

Gotta get this post in under the deadline! I got sidetracked by sending off free copies of Extraordinary to people who gave me emails in return for a free story, and then I got distracted by an email informing me that Controlled Descent made the cut for the Self-E module of Biblioboard’s ebook collection.

That means LIBRARY DISTRIBUTION all over the country. Epic big. So anyway, that distracted me from my planned post, which luckily is a shortie one anyway. To wit, why it’s so easy to offend by being defensive.

I dial back my personal intensity most of the time, because (A) it makes people I like uncomfortable and (B) I don’t enjoy making people uncomfortable. This isn’t the forum to slap me for not “being myself” so let’s leave that behind.  Let’s move onward to the point that’s relevant. That intensity comes out and startles people when I get defensive, because I get harder when I feel weakest.

I don’t take pushing well. Neither physical pushing nor verbal, Definitely not opinions disguised as “suggestions,”  Anything presented in a “you should” format will likely set me off-balance. Even the  “you should try” kind of should is a type of pushing, and they all feel like attacks. Being pushed always makes me dig in my heels and curl my toes and cling tightest to my guns. It leaves me off balance and exposed, and so I tuck in and push back to keep myself from caving and crumbling.

I’m not defending my reaction, as such, but it’s a true reflex for me, and one unlikely to change. It’s also hardly unique. A lot of people push back harder when pushed.  But I need to remember now and again, that when I flare my ruff and growl loudly, it will come as a surprise tho those who only see my camouflaged spots.  It disconcerts the innocent and looks a lot like an attack, especially to those who don’t realize that what they’re doing looks like an attack from my side.

That’s all. No big revelations. No resolution. Just a thought.

Time: 11:00 PM
Tea: Nope. Milk. (Hey, it’s late)
Poured, not steeped. And now just the right temp to drink before bed.


Again with the negative waves, Moriarty?

You know what gets my goat? Not haters, no. What gets me down are the happythink police who conflate negativity with abuse. Can’t be kind 24/7/365? They’ll tell me to stay apart and shut up. Might as well slap a big red “N” on my bodice and be done, but no. The judgmental assault on my chosen way of handling harsh reality–on my very identity–is all wrapped up in good intentions. 

Being told I’m unacceptable isn’t mean to be hurtful, I’m told. (And yes, I do get publicly lectured for raining on the positivity parade.) Demanding that others be positive at all times is only an emotional defense, it’s said. Insistence on constant happythink is an attempt to make the world better for everyone. 

Nuh-uh. Nope. That bullshit doesn’t fly. Defenses are self-oriented. Shine a light on inner darkness. Erect walls of happy. Paint rays of sunshine on them. Collect positives. Be positive. Those are all defensive measures.  Issuing directives to others about tone and presentation is all about suppression, dismissal and exercising social power. It’s offensive, not defensive. And yes, I mean offensive in all senses. 

 The dismissal of criticism with abuse scares me most. The emerging insistence that negatives must be presented with kindness to be considered valid/constructive/legitimate sets perilous precedents. Lumping true criticism in with destructive hostility gives trolls a shield to hide behind. (See also: “I’m just trying to be helpful.” “Fair and balanced.” “It’s just my opinion.”)

Abuse is not analytical. Criticism is. Solutions can’t be framed without undertanding the problem. The rest…that’s just style points. The definition of criticism as applied to art is “an analysis of merits and faults.” Any commentary failing that simple definition is an abusive attack dressed up in a criticism-costume.  Any commentary meeting it is criticism. A negative that leads to positive. It’s the manure every garden needs.

Here’s a less stinky analogy. Offering harsh analysis on a steely platter instead of a fluffy blanket does not make it an attack. Frank presentation of faults can be painful, but gentleness can be too. Ask anyone who’s suffered the attentions of a tentative nurse trying to find a vein. 

 It is not always constructive to mention merits. Sometimes, yes, even often, but expecting faults to be left unmentioned unless equal merits are pointed out isn’t reasonable. “If you have to say something bad, always say something good” is like saying, “If I want to discuss astronomy, I need to allow an astrologist on the panel too. For balance.” No. Merits do not always balance faults. One may far outnumber the other, and weak praise is damning. Ask Shakespeare. 

Demanding adept diplomacy as well as the effort of analysis makes people far less willing to offer criticism at all. And when that happens, art suffers. 

Here’s a related problem: insisting that only praise counts as constructive criticism. Dressing up negative analysis with puffy praise stickers doesn’t make it constructive. Context does. Constructive criticism is analysis offered while a work can be rebuilt. A critical review is aimed at the audience/market for a finished product. Period. That’s the only difference. Criticism type is defined by situation, not presentation.

If a review contains nothing but complaints, that’s as valid as one that holds nothing but praise. The only difference is in how the author feels about it. And constructive criticism that focuses with laser precision on faults is no different in function than a critique that dwells on only positives. (Again, please remember that this refers only to analytical commentary. Not things like, “This sucks.”) 
 I’ve saved the worst for last. I loathe the hoary chestnut, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything.”  If there’s ever a vote for which statement best encapsulates all that is wrong with the modern world, this one gets my nomination. It equates a lack of praise with tacit disapproval. What a mess! It creates an emotional imbalance that requires hearing praise simply to stay centered, and that leads to an escalating need for praise. Knowing that silence means people might be holding back unkind things plants seeds of doubt as destructive as dragon’s teeth.

It’s a persistent little belief, too. So popular. So hard to eradicate. Took me years to get that one out of my system.  

Creativity lives in the still, quiet spaces of the soul as well as in the raging power of anger and pain, just as it resonates in joys and flights of spirit. Silence should feed fragile inspiration, not destroy it with doubt. 

If you can’t say anything nice, say it as nicely as possible, but say it, so the listener knows that silence is not hiding unspoken faults. Trust is built with painful truths, not false walls. When silence means tacit acceptance,  confidence builds slowly with every layer of sedimentary quiet. That’s golden.

For every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under Heaven. Even the bad stuff. That’s why I’ll keep on broadcasting my negative waves whenever the situation calls for them.


5 Words I Wish I Could Use–and Why I Can’t.

I love language. I was a lucky, blessed toddler whose parents read to her on a regular basis. I love the way words feel and move, how they leave the body on a breath, how they spill out on a page, each with a unique height and depth and cadence. That legacy of warm, loving embraces and laughter informs even the hard words I learned later, even the nasty awful ones. I love words, so today I’m indulging in a eulogy to socially-freighted vocabulary.

Look at these wonderful words: articulate, elite. entitled, intellectual, privileged.1, 2

Each one has rolled in enough sociological mud to be exiled to the verbal woodshed forever. They were once complimentary. They should be positives as well as adjectives. They aren’t. I wish they were, but if wishes were horses, I would have a huge hay bill to pay off. Huge.

A short digression into personal history. My first experience with the perils of vocabulary came at age ten. I was at sleep-away summer camp, babbling away with my tent-mates (they liked me! we read the same books!)  at dinner. Our unit counselor did not approve of us. At some point, I described someone’s behavior as animated. She proceeded–loudly and at length–to mock me in front of the entire camp for thinking I was so smart when I didn’t even know that animated meant cartoons.

I was smart. I didn’t argue with someone who had ultimate authority over me for five more days. It hurt like being flayed alive, and I still carry the conversational scars.  I can’t speak my mind with passion and eloquence unless I am too enraged to remember that pain. When I am angry, however, I become viciously articulate, and the people I admire most are those who who speak and write with skill and artful expertise in any circumstances.

The subtext of dismantling or constructing, the lengthy assault of syllables…oh, I miss that word.  Why can’t I use articulate to describe someone who has the ability to swing words as weapons or lift an audience to delight with the power of their vocabulary? It is magic, and a wonder to behold. Racist bigots stole one of my favorite compliments to use as a backhanded swipe at people of color. Awful racist bigots.

Of course, admitting to a love of articulate people leaves me open to accusations of elitism. To which I say, YUP. What of it?  I aspire to excellence. I admire those who achieve it. When did being a member of an elite become a bad thing?  When did it become a pejorative? Ditto for intellectual. These words should be good things, but they’re not these days, and I miss them.  I’mma just gonna leave this Isaac Asimov quote here and move on.

“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge'”

Next, let’s take a look at entitlement. What the hell happened to this innocent little word?  Look at the root form. En-title. It’s a transitive verb. It isn’t a state or a condition, it’s an action. It’s something someone does to someone. No one gets to be entitled without someone entitling them.  Except now.  Now its an insult to fling at people who used to get accused of being uppity and not paying their dues. Uh-huh.  The moment it became an adjective, it was sullied and lost to use by anyone but resentful grouches who feel threatened by any demographic that doesn’t appreciate their precious status quo.

Speaking of status quo, I’ll wrap up with privilege. The word is a tool of intellectual (!) discourse. There, its nuanced meaning of (more or less)  a constellation of advantages afforded to one group but not others has an important place. Race, sex, orientation, age, income, and ability do skew perspective. All the same, I miss being able to say “It’s been a privilege to meet/work with/know …” It’s too heavy a word for the lightweight use as a compliment now. Also, buzzwords make me twitch.

I was first trained out of the naive, ignorant use of articulate, and rightfully so. Years later now, I can appreciate how gently the correction was offered. At the time it came as a painful shock, and I resented it for a long time. Grief hits like that sometimes: anger first, before acceptance. The other words have fallen away over the last decade, casualties, one by one, of the culture wars that I think are going to get much worse before they get better.

That’s it. Those are the five words I miss most. All done. IF you were expecting deep social relevance or insight … wrong blog, sorry. This is my self-space. The World Revolves Around Boring Ol’ Me.  If you wanted serious personal revelations or rants about writing, go back a few posts. Or come back another time. I’m sure I’ll rant again soon.

Note 1: I’m using alphabetical order, for lack of any other objective ranking.
Note 2: there are many more than five words that qualify, but these are the ones that came to mind without hesitation. These are my favorites among the filthy, sticky, dirty collection of oldie-moldy well-loved Problematic Words


Time for a pit stop

Today’s writing analogy is brought to you by my long-overdue viewing of the 24 hours of Le Mans. Yup. That’s right.  I’m about to compare my writing and publishing experience to racing cars.

 Let’s say I can do the writing part. Let’s say I’m a great driver of a fantastic writing machine. All my talent and passion and hard work with my vehicle won’t get me to the finish line of a race. I can’t fix the car’s tires, pump the fuel or tinker with the gearbox. I can’t keep up with the maintenance, do the repairs and drive at the same time. No one can.

This is not a writer’s pit crew.

I need a pit crew. There are aspects to this publishing gig that I cannot do myself. I need to face that reality as I move from amateur to pro status.  I am an unknown beginner entering a race right along with a field of seasoned professionals.  I need a solid team of devoted backers with me for every trip around the track if I ever expect to fight my way into the standings.

This isn’t about requesting a little help when I need it, or fielding opinions here and there. This is about not having to ask.  It’s emotionally exhausting to have to repeatedly approach others with metaphorical hat in hand, begging for crumbs of attention over and over. It poisons every conversation I have with friends, and it reduces my fragile psyche to the useless, disgusting texture of pink slime.

When a race car goes into the pits, people swarm all over it without hesitation. The driver doesn’t ask for help. The need is anticipated. A bunch of specialists work together to get the vehicle ready for the next stage. The crew members tag in and out of the action, and they don’t do the same thing on every visit, but every time, that team works with the driver to get the car moving again.

After two solid years of writing effectively in isolation–years spent learning how to race, to stretch my analogy–I’ve spent the last few months struggling over each new word. The reasons finally gelled for me while I was watching that never-ending race coverage. I’m patching the gas line when I should be concentrating on the track. I’m concentrating on my weaknesses instead of my strengths. That’s a traumatic thing to do, mentally, and stressed minds do not create. They disintegrate.

I’m looking for a few special people willing to step up and say, “Yes, rely on us. You don’t have to wonder what will happen when you pull onto the shoulder with smoking tires and a bumper hanging loose. We will be there–ready, willing and able to put you in order and keep you up and running. We officially want to be part of your unpaid crazy venture into independent publishing. We want shoulder patches and matching teeshirts and mentions in the dedications. We want free books.”

Pit Task Descriptions:

Like members of a real pit crew, you might only be able to do one thing, or you might want to be on the line for every check-in. Beloved In-House Reader has volunteered for all these duties except cover art, but there’s only one of him. The idea is to get as many people doing each job, all at the same time.

Alpha Reader
“Be willing to read short snippets of work in progress and offer basic critiques and encouragement in a timely fashion.” This means that when asked, you can respond within a few days and cough up basic commentary within a week. An example of basic commentary would be, “It doesn’t suck. Keep going. The first page was a little confusing. Also, where did the owl come from?” I need this now, I need this regularly. I am a needy person.

Beta Reader
“Be willing to read a completed rough work from beginning to end and offer extensive feedback on plot and character.” I would provide some ideas, but your input could come in whatever form you prefer. Example questions might include “Did the beginning catch your interest right away, or was there a point when you would’ve put it down? Was there any character who didn’t feel real?” Etc. You could provide feedback in any form you like. Lists, track-changed docs, crayon on construction paper, whatevs. The kicker piece is time again. If a month isn’t enough time to skim through a story and throw your gut impressions down in print, then don’t sign on for this job.

“Be willing to proof completed beta-passed manuscripts prior to official electronic publishing.” This meshes well with beta reading for some people. Some beta readers can’t work without proofing as they go along. I’m one of those. The thing is, an editor who’s been a beta reader might have to read almost-the-same-manuscript twice.” I wouldn’t need this for novels — I have a great pro editor, but I don’t have the money to spend on pro editing for short pieces.  I would gladly shower gratitude on any and all volunteers who would tackle those.

Cover Art: I am not an artist. I always need suggestions, stock art, and feedback on my dumb ideas…

Every pit crew has a guy who stands in front of the car with a little sign that says “stop” on one side and “go” on the other. I always wanted that job. Anyone could do it. That’s promotion, on my pit crew. Anyone can brag to their friends, family and total strangers about this fantastic author they know, the one who writes kickass stories about men and women living in worlds a lot like ours, only different.

As a matter of fact, I would beg everyone on the pit crew help with promotions now and then (for reasons that will get a post of their own)  plus keep an eye out for creative ways to get out the word about my amazing books. “Help Karen get the word out” could be the team motto.

Anyone want to sign on for this insanity? Anyone? The perks are not stellar. You get free reading material. You get to participate in the nitty-gritty of the creative process, with the potential to see your ideas become part of a story. There might be baked goods. There would be free books.  The obligation is there too, though. This is asking for a real commitment. Don’t feel bad about saying no, or voting no by silence. It’s all good. I will still love you all as much as I do now. (I love anyone who reads anything I write a whole lot. Buckets worth. Boodles, even.)

But if you do step up to the line, if you join my crew, then we can get started designing a teeshirt logo. And a badge. Dawnrigger Publishing Pit Vipers, maybe. I dunno. What say you?

We Win!

An Uncomfortable Stew of Shortcomings

This post has been simmering for a while. I can’t seem to bring it to a full boil, but it won’t stop bubbling, so I’m going to pour out the mess and call it done. Deep thoughts get bitter if you let them cook too long in the pot. Time to pull out the ladle and serve up my latest navel-gazing contemplations.  I’ve labeled the post with  “discrimination, harassment, guilt, and violence.” Proceed at your own risk.

I keep reading that labels are limiting, that strong people and wise ones reject labels and embrace the complexity of life. The idea makes me physically ill. I need labels. Labels shape my world. They shape me. They compress the vast, baffling incomprehensible, battering sensory chaos of reality into forms I can grasp. What I can grasp, I can shape. What I can shape, I can master.  I love defining, categorizing, dividing, organizing, sorting, and classifying things, actions, and yes, people.

Good people don’t do that. Guess that means I’m weak and stupid? (Oh, look. Labels.) Yes, social and emotional labels can be brutally destructive. They can flay egos, erode confidence, ruin lives. They can kill. Yes, all true, but the act of labeling does not do that damage. The nature of the label, the dissonance between label and self-label, the inability to move from the cave of shadows into the light of substance — that is where failure lies. Applying labels is not inherently wrong. It’s human. Moving from definition to devaluation is where things usually go wrong, and refusing to accept correction is an unhappily common evil.

When it comes to my own labels. I would rather make peace with them and grow through them than shed them. They have warped me, I’m sure. I was the selfish, ungrateful child, the oblivious dreamer who didn’t understand how the world worked.  I was the awkward sickly one. When I grew older, I added weird, bitch and dyke (Pre-internet, and naive as hell, I had to look up dyke at the library to find out why it was scrawled on my locker. Bitch, now–bitch made me cry right away.) Those labels left marks, but those pressures shaped me, and I like who I am. I won’t give up any part of myself, and I can’t struggle through my days without the freedom to look at people and things and say friend/foe, attractive/not,  interesting/not, helpful/irritating/both, male/female/notsure, fun/boring and all the rest.

I can refuse to make unthinking value judgments. I can refuse to accept first impressions as final ones. And I can work against my own label-affections to quickly adapt and change my perceptions when errors are pointed out. But I can’t stop applying labels based on what my senses tell me.

Speaking of labels, I detest the word feminist. The idea of calling myself one makes my skin crawl with disgust. That’s an horrible thing to admit, given that I believe to the marrow of my bones that men and women are inherently equal and deserve equal opportunities at all stages of life.  I applaud others for embracing the philosophy by its proper name, like I can be perfectly happy that others enjoy being called cute. (That’s another label that grates on me like sandpaper. Notice that I’m not blaming the label itself…but I digress.) I roll my eyes at any woman who says that they “don’t need feminism.” I silently judge them. I still loathe the word.

It’s the associations. It’s my own experience. It When I was in my formative years, the feminists in the spotlight were people like Bela Abzug and Gloria Steinem and organizations like NOW,  who assertively and loudly declared that women didn’t need men and that men were evil. It galls me when I hear people now insist that feminists don’t believe those things and never did. It’s revisionist history at its worst.  I read the essays. I listened to the speeches. In the 70’s, American feminist leaders did, in fact, and in print, declaim the entire male population as irreparably flawed and accuse the whole sex of deliberate, aggressive, violent oppression. They made broad sweeping negative generalizations and dismissals of the exactly the same kind they despised men for making. They did, publicly and repeatedly, disrespect women who made “traditional” personal choices. Women who didn’t toe the political feminist line on every issue were called traitors to their sex.

I believed then, and believe now, that the movement squandered huge opportunities for change by alienating people like me, who had no desire to be associated with hate-based organizations. I still deeply resent that my belief in equality is associated forevermore with the negative proclamations of those years. For me, the word is as ruined as nationalism or socialism.  Those are two other concepts whose good names were sullied not only by the propaganda of their detractors, but by the actions of their adherents. I believe in the principles. I just can’t stand the trappings.

Sexual Harassment
It doesn’t happen to me. Should I feel guilty about that? I do, sometimes. Oh, I don’t mean that I’m magically exempt from systemic oppression. I am subject to the same handicaps of any female in a male-dominated culture. Those burdens weigh lighter on my shoulders than on those of many others, though, and I have no explanation for it.  I feel incredibly lucky, and undeserving, and guilty as hell that I have never attracted random sexual attention. I have boobs and a booty. They’ve never been groped without my approval. (Possibly once on a crowded dance floor. Once. Ever.) I’ve gotten honks and catcalls as I’ve walked, sure, but never felt a sense of personal threat. I’ve never been confronted sexually, or cornered, or lewdly propositioned.

I’m not young. I was driving before the movie 9 to 5 came out. Abuse was an assumed aspect of employment when I hit the job market. Improving work environments was barely an idea, yet I have never suffered the humiliations and personal violations that my relatives and friends have.  My sister told me once about rocking and mumbling while awaiting public transit, because it deterred unwanted male attention. I’d never considered the problem. No one ever accosted me.

 There’s a comedian who talks about the element of uncertainty and threat (“is this my rape? Is it going to happen this time?”)  that colors some confrontations with men — and the unfunny truth that every confrontation has the potential for violence. I do know that feeling. I’ve observed aggressions aplenty. I’ve watched others get squashed in their seats or pressed in crowds. I’ve seen guys bothering acquaintances after a pickup line was courteously declined. The everyday hostilities do not touch me, like death’s shadow passing over the first born of the Hebrews in Egypt. I wonder, what unspoken signal do I send, what vibe do I vibe, what pheromone I exude, that I’ve so far been exempt? Or is it just luck? I don’t know. In the end, I suppose it doesn’t matter. I can only go on as I have and hope for the best.

I’m left with this strange painful impression that I haven’t earned my badges. I have no street cred. My understanding is that of education, not experience. Not that I want those experiences. No. Emphatically not. Not at all, and my heart goes out to those who have endured them, but it’s a heart that can only beat in sympathy, not clench in empathy. That never feels adequate. It isn’t enough.  It’s alienating, to be in a demographic but not of it. 

So. Those are the big three topics that have been chafing my chitlins lately. There are more, but that’s more than too much for one confessional. I need to go find some pictures of kittens or watch clips of laughing babies for a while. Happy ideas to paste over the raw uncomfortable places.

There. The pot is no longer boiling over.